An honest, low-ranking samurai, Munezo Katagiri finds himself buffeted by the confusion of old and new in mid-19th century Japan. Facing outside pressure, the Shogunate is trying to open Japan to the West and some carefully selected Western ways, while maintaining its fragile political base. Munezo, and his colleague Samon Shimada try to maintain their footing, paying heed to the demanding moral code of the samurai while also learning new military strategies, particularly the mastery of Western artillery. But Munezo also has a personal complication. He is secretly in love--so secretly, he may not even admit it to himself--with his family's maid, the sweet and beautiful country girl, Kie. His passion leads him to rescue Kie from a loveless marriage after she leaves his household; the samurai even shocks propriety by carrying away the low-caste young woman on his back. Just as Munezo starts to get his domestic situation in something to resembling order, Munezo hears devastating news. A comrade, Yaichiro Hazama, has been caught up in a plot in Edo. Their clan has sent the rebellious samurai home in the humiliating transport of a "prisoner's basket." Munezo comes under suspicion because he and Yaichiro, the clan's best swordsmen, shared a famed instructor, but Munezo refuses to cooperate with the chief retainer's witch hunt. Tension finally leads Munezo to confess his growing affection to Kie, a development that the young woman begins to hope will lead to the abandonment of caste structures. But before Munezo can realize his romantic destiny, Yaichiro escapes. Munezo is ordered to kill him, and the loyal, honorable samurai is faced with one final challenge to his principles.
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